Photo by Chris Casella

Fights for the Future

I was less than four months old when Columbus native James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world by knocking out Mike Tyson to become the heavyweight champion of the world. My mom likes to tell me the story of traveling through a snowstorm (uphill both ways, of course) to my uncle’s house to watch the fight on HBO.

Now, the ring that Douglas used to train for that bout on Feb. 11, 1990 will finally have a new home, and could be where the next world champion from Columbus cuts his teeth.

Local mixed martial arts and boxing promoter Troy Speakman—once a pro fighter himself and now a Franklin County Deputy Sheriff—plans to place the ring that the Historical Society and Columbus Parks didn’t want in a convenient location somewhere in the capital city to give kids an outlet to get off of the streets and make something of their lives.

I was recently able to catch up with Speakman on the 26th anniversary of Douglas’ victory over Tyson to discuss the famous ring and his plan to rejuvenate the sweet science in the 614.

How did you come about acquiring the boxing ring that Buster Douglas trained in for his fights?

I’ve been involved in boxing since I was a young kid—I started fighting at age 7. And I knew John Johnson and a lot of people in the boxing business around, and when I turned pro, John, who managed Buster Douglas, also managed me.

What are your specific plans for the ring now that you’ve acquired it?

I’ve been trying to revive boxing back here. There are some very key people in the Columbus Parks & Rec. John Frissora and [other] people have been trying to keep boxing alive. And for the past few years, I’ve contemplated how to bring the Police Athletic League or some kind of boxing pattern back to Columbus. Years ago, Columbus was one of the major amateur fight cities in the world. Once a year they had the Ohio State Fair, and if you won the Ohio State Fair in an Olympic year then you were an automatic Olympic qualifier. The people around here—PromoWest’s Scott Stienecker—he brought the Golden Gloves here a few years back, and the response was great. Columbus has always been a big fight town, but just unfortunately, the people that put all of the time into it, the people that dedicate their lives to it, have passed away, and nobody wanted to pick up the torch and move on.

I know you mentioned you wanted to revive the Police Athletic League. What would that mean to you if you were able to revive amateur boxing in Columbus?

Well just imagine this, just like you put the paper out and people acknowledge it, see it, and you get your brand out there. There are so many kids, whether it be in the streets of Columbus, the Buckeye Boys Ranch, The Ohio Youth Commission—there are so many places out there that have kids with no direction. They have nothing to work for, strive for, think about, do, so they run the streets and get into trouble. They could be employed if they had some kind of direction or mentor or something in their lives that meant something. And it’s kind of sad the way the programs and things have deteriorated that were so great in the past.

You also mentioned that you’d like to bring the regional Golden Gloves back to Columbus from Kentucky. What are the plans for that?

Well, I’m going to reach out and try to revive that, try to purchase it back, and get sponsors and donations, and if I have to, throw my own money in. The Golden Gloves need to be back in Columbus, Ohio. When Mr. Bill Cummings who ran the OYC, passed away, nobody wanted to take the responsibility to do what he did; they didn’t know what a great job he did and what he meant to amateur boxing. And when he passed away, they sold the franchise to the tri-state area down in Ashland, Kentucky. The Golden Gloves have not been here since 1982.

There has been a little bit of a revival of pro boxing in Columbus in the past few years. To what do you attribute that?

The people at PromoWest, Scott Stienecker. I promote shows there, and his people, his staff, his building, what a great atmosphere. It’s kind of like the old Blue Horizon in Philadelphia, it’s historic for boxing. The crowds get bigger and better every fight. Hollywood Casino, I’ve done a couple of fights out there, people are excited and they’re back into the fights again. And they lost the amateurs. There’s no amateur program. The kids right now that are 20-26 who came up through the youth department and they’re all local guys. Right now there are not too many local kids coming through our programs, because our programs have deteriorated and there’s nothing to gain. There’s no big Ohio State Fair tournament anymore, there’s no regional Golden Gloves anymore, and the kids are getting away from it. The people like Stienecker, Frissora, those type of people, John Johnson, it takes those type of people to know what it does for the community and the kids and just to keep things going.

You promote boxing and MMA events during the Arnold Sports Festival every year. What does it mean to Columbus to have high profile events like that?

The Arnold Classic, with my partner Bob Lorimer, is phenomenal. It brings 190,000 people to the city of Columbus in three days. You can’t even imagine … when I became his partner I just thought it was a bunch of big muscle head guys walking around in the Convention Center. It’s unbelievable—the culture, the diversity. It’s a wonderful event and it’s a spectacular thing to witness. To get our events, the boxing, the amateur boxing, the police and fire boxing, the MMA, to get those on that floor, is unbelievable. It just helps the community, it helps the program grow, and it just sends everything in the right direction.

Are there any plans to get Buster involved in the revival in youth boxing in Columbus?

Buster is involved in amateur boxing; he works for the Columbus Parks and Recreation at Thompson Recreation Center. Buster is always involved in everything in the community. He’s a great guy and he loves kids. Buster will be involved in anything he wishes to be involved in. The plan right now is the hardest phase of the game. My friend Steve Miller who owns SW Construction, he’s donating his time to go tear the gym down and put it in storage until we find the space to put it in. I’m going to go around right after the Arnold to start looking for a place to get things up and running. And once people see it’s serious and people see it’s going the right direction, and then the sky is the limit. I think people will come out of the woodwork to help.